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Rome Reports

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The story behind Pope Francis' favorite painting by Caravaggio


When Pope Francis was still known as Cardinal Bergoglio, he used to visit the church of St. Louis of the French, to admire these works by Caravaggio. "The calling of St. Matthew," is his favorite because of its special meaning.

Matthew was rejected by the people of Israel since he collected taxes from the Israelites and gave them to the Romans. Yet, Jesus saw something in him that the rest did not see.

FR. FELIPE HERRERA
Community, St. Louis of the French
"Jesus, who looks at us, and who calls us from our weaknesses, sets an example by calling Matthew out of this place where he was, from his collection table to make him an apostle. The pope understood this: the Lord does not call the gifted, but gifts those He calls so they can be at the service of the Church."

The motto that Francis chose when he was elected pope, "Miserando atque eligendo," precisely refers to the Gospel parable of St. Matthew's vocation, "He looked at him with a feeling of love and chose him."

It reflects a significant message to the pope so a workshop in Perugia, a small Italian city, wanted to give him a copy of the painting. Now he has the copy in the Vatican, with the same techniques and colors as the original work.

This work is currently in Casa Santa Marta, where the pope officiates mass every morning.

FR. FELIPE HERRERA
Community, St. Louis of the French
"What happened when the Lord calls him and he gets up and goes? We do not know. Jesus calling and Matthew saying to himself, 'Me?' He must have thought, 'Why me if I'm despised and a sinner?' 'I am calling you.' I believe this struck the pope's heart deeply and gave this painting a special religious meaning for him."

That finger with which Jesus calls Matthew recalls the same gesture of the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The message is the same: all people are called to be saints.

FR. FELIPE HERRERA
Community, St. Louis of the French
"The pope is contemplating this vocation of Matthew daily. He who looks at it with eyes of faith that go further will realize there is a very particular call from the Lord who calls people with mercy."

The church of St. Louis of the French is the only church in Rome with three works by Caravaggio. In addition to “The Calling of Saint Matthew,” there is “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew” and “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew.” More than two thousand people visit the church every day and admire the works that were created four centuries before.